The International Bar Association needed to have a good annual conference last week, and it did.
The pressure was on because slightly more than a year earlier, its 2011 event in Dubai was beset with controversy that all but overshadowed the meat of the organisation’s premier gathering.
Following much ballyhoo over the Dubai venue – during which senior IBA figures hailed the Gulf region as joining the global legal profession fold – the emirate’s hard-line authorities threatened to cancel the whole show only weeks before the curtain was scheduled to rise. The reason? Several conference sessions – for example, those on gender and sexual orientation issues, assessment of capital punishment in various jurisdictions and human rights matters generally – offended the sensitivities of Dubai’s ruling sheiks, for whom concepts of free speech are, shall we say, still evolving.
After some eleventh-hour negotiations, a compromise was struck and the conference went ahead, although not without some grumbling and much unwanted publicity.
Arguably, there’s no better place to go for a spot of wound-licking and recuperation than Dublin. The Irish love a party and even in straightened economic times, they are prepared to put on good show.
And as our commentator writes this week (see page xxx), a range of highly relevant issues to the modern global legal profession were intellectually debated without any threat of interference. Indeed, if anything, the Irish government would probably have been happy for the IBA to do and talk about anything, provided the 5,000 delegates and their guests spent as liberally as possible in the local hotels and hostelries.
The IBA is an odd beast – part professional networking body, part social club, part human rights campaigning organisation. On the one hand, it has its fair share of old-stager members who treat the organisation as an almost personal fiefdom. But, on the other, it retains an influential global reputation that affords it a degree of influence in the corridors of some international governments.
For example, earlier this week, the association announced a deal that sees it form an enhanced working relationship with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). That Paris-based body is a high-powered talking shop, representing, effectively, the richest countries in the world.
According to an IBA statement, the two bodies will now collaborate ‘on improving legal frameworks, expertise, and development across a number of sectors’, including employment, energy, environment and natural resources, financial services, migration, trade and investment, and the rule of law and democratic values.
Dublin itself will have been sweeping up the plastic cups, getting the fag ash out of the carpet and generally tidying up after the party left town. Its top-flight business law firms will have relished the opportunity to reinforce their position of being perched between the US the UK and Europe, highlighting their common law training, while likewise pointing out to international clients that their fee rates measure up extremely favourably when compared with London’s magic circle, or even top 20 firms.
Next year, the IBA’s annual bash will be in Boston, which, for many Americans, might as well be in Ireland. For as long as almost anyone who has anything to do with the organisation can remember, the IBA has touted each successive annual conference as being better attended than its predecessor. With organisers claiming that more than 5,000 lawyers crammed onto the banks of the Liffey last week, the city on the Charles River has a high hurdle to jump.